‘This is how we can tackle Londoners’ fears on immigration’

We asked a young Muslim in London, Umar Bhatti, for his views on the New Zealand terror attack

I pen these subdued words following the tragic murder of dozens of Muslim worshipers, and dozens more injured, at two of New Zealand’s mosques in Christchurch. Most importantly, my deepest sympathies and prayers are with all those who are affected by this tragedy.

As a young British Muslim, I am horrified and devastated by these terrorist attacks. I know New Zealand to be an idyllic, peaceful and tolerant country. So my immediate thought was: if this can happen there, it shows that no part of the world is safe from extremism or terrorism!

As a Londonder, I vividly remember the attacks of Finsbury Mosque, London Bridge and Westminster . All of them claiming casualties. In many ways, such attacks lay bare the divisions and hatred that stand between the various communities that make up this and other countries.

Yet following the attacks here in the UK, it was not division that won, but instead unity – even if only for a moment. People from across the city and wider UK came together in unison to speak out against those who would use extremism and fear of the other to create enmity between us.

I witnessed thousands of people gather at vigils across the UK in a spirit of solidarity and under the banner of “Love for all, hatred for none”. Before my very own eyes, I saw people of different religions, races and backgrounds embrace one another in a spirit of hope.

It is, therefore, hope that I want to emphasise. We cannot undo the wrongs of these attacks and the suffering caused. However, to honour the memories of innocent lives lost and defy the terrorists, we can work harder to establish greater peace in the world.

There are shining examples of people who are already doing this.

For example, last Saturday I attended the Annual Peace Symposium, hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at Baitul Futuh, the largest mosque in the UK.

Over 800 guests attended, from the political, civil and public sectors. The keynote speaker was His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, caliph and worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

His holiness denounced all forms of terrorism. Regarding the far right, he said: “One of the core reasons underpinning their popularity has been widespread immigration, which has caused resentment and a belief that existing indigenous citizens are being short-changed in order to fund and support immigrants.”

He did not stop there, but offered the following remedy to this problem: “All that most people desire is the ability to provide for their families and it is only when such opportunities are denied to them that they seek to leave their homes in search of a better life.

“Accordingly, the long-term solution to the immigration crisis has to be to establish peace in war-torn countries and to help the local people, who have been forced to endure lives of misery and danger, to live peacefully.”

It is clear that immigration has been utilised in this way around the world. President Trump famously used the Muslim ban and a Mexican border wall to bolster his campaign.

In the UK, one of the core reasons large parts of the population are seeking to leave the EU is because of immigration. Boris Johnson even famously called Muslim women letter boxes and bank robbers.

When people in power say these things, it legitimises the far-right’s perverted ideology. It simply helps their cause.

As a Muslim, this will be yet another challenge which we will need to overcome. It is no secret that this will galvanise a movement. A small minority of people will be using this situation to their use. We need to stay calm.

The atrocity is still raw and more information will continue to reveal itself. This is, therefore, a time for our condolences. However, when the dust settles, we must identify how they were radicalised, and authorities should take appropriate action to tackle this issue.

What we are sure of is that everyone has a role to fight extremism by promoting tolerance and speaking out against all forms of bigotry and prejudice.